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Brain Development. EDU 221 Spring 2014. Understanding Brain Development . Parents, teachers, and others who closely observe children have long recognized the importance of the early years.

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brain development

Brain Development

EDU 221

Spring 2014

understanding brain development
Understanding Brain Development
  • Parents, teachers, and others who closely observe children have long recognized the importance of the early years.
  • They know that talking with and responding to babies is the best way to promote security and encourage healthy development.
  • By taking advantage of new technologies--including brain scans--scientists can now see how and when the brain works.
  • Recent research provides proof that a child's interactions and experiences in the first few years of life have a large impact on social, emotional, intellectual, and language development.
brain development1
At birth, the human brain is still preparing for full operation. The brain's neurons exist mostly apart from one another. The brain's task for the first 3 years is to establish and reinforce connections with other neurons.

These connections are formed when impulses are sent and received between neurons. Axons send messages and dendrites receive them. These connections form synapses.

Brain Development

Neurons mature when axons send messages and dendrites receive them to form synapses

slide4
By the time a child is 3 years old, a baby's brain has formed about 1,000 trillion connections — about twice as many as adults have. A baby's brain is superdense and will stay that way throughout the first decade of life.

Beginning at about age 11, a child's brain gets rid of extra connections in a process calling "pruning," gradually making order out of a thick tangle of "wires."

The remaining "wiring" is more powerful and efficient. The increase in synaptic density in a child's brain can be seen in Figure 2

The interactions that parents assist with in a child's environment are what spur the growth and pattern of these connections in the brain.

As the synapses in a child's brain are strengthened through repeated experiences, connections and pathways are formed that structure the way a child learns. If a pathway is not used, it's eliminated based on the "use it or lose it" principle. Things you do a single time, either good or bad, are somewhat less likely to have an effect on brain development.

When a connection is used repeatedly in the early years, it becomes permanent. For example, when adults repeat words and phrases as they talk to babies, babies learn to understand speech and strengthen the language connections in the brain.

Figure 2

understanding brain development1
Understanding Brain Development
  • Babies are born with 100 billion brain cells, called neurons, virtually all of the brain cells they will ever have.
  • The neurons are not yet connected into networks as they will be when the brain is mature.
  • As babies respond to experiences in their world of home, family, and caregivers, their brain cells form networks that give them the capacity to think and learn.
  • Connections are made as brain cells send signals to and receive input from each other.
  • A single cell can connect with as many as 15,000 other cells.
  • The resulting network of connections is called the brain's wiring or circuitry.
interactions and experiences that stimulate brain development
Interactions and Experiences That Stimulate Brain Development
  • Brain development occurs around the clock, when babies are with their parents and when they are cared for by others.
  • Every important caregiver--relative, neighbor, child care provider--has an impact on the baby's brain development.
  • As babies respond to these actions, their brains develop connections. Touch is particularly important to babies' development.
  • Holding and stroking a baby stimulates the brain to release the hormones that allow for growth.
  • Each time the baby experiences new things to look at, hear, taste, smell, touch, and feel, new connections are formed.
slide7
Shortly after birth a baby's brain produces trillions more connections between neurons than it can possibly use.
  • By age three, the child's brain has formed 1,000 trillion connections--twice as many as in an adult brain.
  • Beginning at about age 10, the child's brain begins getting rid of the extra connections and gradually creates a more powerful and efficient circuitry.
  • The brain permanently retains the connections that are used repeatedly in the early years and eliminates connections that are seldom or never used.
  • For example, children who are seldom spoken to or read to in the early years tend to have difficulty mastering language skills because their brains eliminate the unused connections used for this type of learning.
how the brain creates learning windows
How the Brain Creates Learning Windows
  • Neurons send their signals through axons - the lines that form electrical connections with other cells.
  • Many of the axons are wrapped with cells which form myelin sheaths.
  • The sheaths insulate the axon, allowing it to send a signal 100 times faster than if it did not have the sheath.
  • Newborns have very few myelinated axons, which explains why they don't see well or have good motor coordination. Without the myelin sheath, their neurons don't work fast enough and can't coordinate well.
  • Myelinization is the key to understanding learning windows--the times in a child's development when a particular kind of learning is most easily acquired.
slide9

CELL BODY

Synapses

Dendrites

Nucleus

Myelin sheath

AXON

Schwann cell

Node of Ranvier

Synaptic terminals